The following is authored by CASWELL FRANKLYN and was submitted as his bi-weekly commitment to the Nation newspaper. BU understands it was NOT published.
During his speech to wrap up the debate on the 2013 Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals in the House of Assembly, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Chris Sinckler, was quoted in another section of the media as saying:
“I don’t steal, I don’t rob anyone, I don’t do anything illegal or underhanded so they could listen as they like, it don’t bother me; so wunna could do what ever wunna like but the truth is going to come out in this country, oh yes it’s going to come out.”
He was speaking about his belief, paranoid or otherwise, that his phone had been tapped and his emails accessed. I must confess that he lost me when he claimed that he explained to the other party on the line that the click they heard would have been someone changing the tape. That suggests to me that he is far less technologically savvy as would be expected of someone in his position. Nobody uses tapes anymore: one little device the size of two fingers can record twenty-five hours of conversations if the battery does not run out of juice.
Be that as it may, I am more concerned with his protestations of honesty. If I am to accept the word of this honourable minister of the Crown, I would be forced to rethink the conclusions that I had drawn after reviewing his election returns for the 2013 General Elections. I actually went into the Registration Department and paid my $4 to view and obtain a copy of his return. Anyone who wants to view a return just has to pay a dollar at the Registration Department: copies cost ten cents per one hundred words.
Now, since I am assured from the floor of our hallowed House of Assembly that the Honourable Minister does not engage in anything illegal or underhanded, I am compelled to conclude that he unwittingly made several mistakes when compiling the return to the Supervisor of Elections. But what troubles me more is that the Supervisor has apparently not noticed the glaring mistakes.
The first thing that struck me is that the Minister declared that he spent $4,692.95 on “tee shirts”. I remember seeing several people wearing t-shirts bearing the Minister’s image during the election campaign. On this score, I must compliment him for his honesty for actually declaring them, in light of the fact that section 10A of the Election Offences and Controversies Act states:
A person is guilty of an illegal practice who before, during or after an election supplies to another person, or wears any apparel or form of dress bearing a political slogan, photograph or image advertising any particular candidate or party in the election.
According to section 28, a person who is guilty of an illegal practice is subject to a fine of $500. This fine only looks small if you are thinking one t-shirt but each shirt handed out constitutes a separate offence. In this regard, I cannot solely blame the Minister; he did something that was contrary to the law, and in effect, reported himself to the relevant authorities but they failed to pursue the matter. Mind you, they have a year to bring charges.
If the matter of the t-shirts were the only problem, I would have said that it was a small matter and let it rest. But there were some other glaring omissions from the return that should have been challenged by the Electoral Office. Contrary to what I observed on the ground and going by the return only, the Minister did not have a single poster or a campaign centre directly east of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church. Also, there was no telephone or electricity supplied to the building. Additionally, according to the return, it is remarkable that the Democratic Labour Party made no contribution to his campaign or that the national meeting that was held in St. Michael North West did not cost a single penny.
Section 52 (1) of the Representation of the People Act requires every candidate to make a return of their expenses to the Supervisor of Elections. It states:
Within seven weeks after the day on which the result of the election is declared the election agent of every candidate at the election shall transmit to the Supervisor of Elections a true return in the Form 5 set out in the Third Schedule, or a form to the like effect containing in relation to that candidate a statement of all payments made by the election agent together with all bills and receipts.
This return is required to ensure that candidates do not spend more on an election than they are allowed by law which, according to section 48 of the Representation of the People Act, should not be in excess of $10 in respect of each registered elector in the constituency. The law relies on the candidate’s honesty to make an accurate return but allows the Supervisor to conduct an investigation, under section 55A, if he is not satisfied that the candidate submitted a true return.
I have found some errors in the Minister’s return, and since he has declared, “I don’t do anything illegal or underhanded” from the floor of the House of Assembly, I am sure that he would welcome the opportunity to correct the errors that I found and any others that he detects on review.
After the last General Elections several people, without reviewing the relevant laws, called for election reform. This case shows that the call might have been misplaced and rather, they should have been calling for enforcement of the laws that we already have since they are mostly observed in the breach.